Tuesday 17 September 2019

'Banned' Iranian oil tanker is spied anchored off Syria coast

SHIP: The Adrian Darya-1 anchored off Syria. Photo: Maxar Tech
SHIP: The Adrian Darya-1 anchored off Syria. Photo: Maxar Tech

Simon Achat

The Iranian oil tanker at the centre of an international incident has been sailing just off the Syrian coast, satellite images appear to show.

The Adrian Darya-1 was seized by British forces and brought to Gibraltar in July after being alerted by the US to its presence. Officials in Gibraltar said they feared it was bound for Syria, violating EU sanctions.

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It was eventually released after assurances were given that it would not head for the war-ravaged country.

But images released this weekend seemed to show it two nautical miles off the shore of Syria. The images, from US company Maxar Technologies, appeared to place the tanker at anchor close to the Syrian port of Tartus on September 6.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted that anyone who believed the ship was no longer headed for Syria was "in denial".

"Tehran thinks it's more important to fund the murderous Assad regime than provide for its own people," he said, alongside another satellite picture. "We can talk, but Iran's not getting any sanctions relief until it stops lying and spreading terror."

There is, however, no confirmation that the ship is unloading its cargo of 2.1m barrels of Iranian crude oil. Neither Iran nor Syria has commented.

Authorities in Tehran earlier said the 2.1 million barrels of crude oil onboard had been sold to an unnamed buyer. That oil is worth about $130m on the global market, but it remains unclear who would buy the oil as they'd face the threat of US sanctions.

The ship, originally known as Grace 1 when it was detained off the British territory in July, has caused a major diplomatic spat between Washington and Tehran. British marines had helped Gibraltar authorities detain the vessel, partly drawing the UK into the row.

The US made an official request to seize the ship in August, but the courts in Gibraltar rejected their appeal.

US prosecutors allege the Adrian Darya owner is Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Last Wednesday, the US imposed new sanctions on an oil shipping network it alleged had ties to the Guard and offered up to $15m for anyone with information that disrupts its paramilitary operations.

The US last year withdrew from the international 2015 deal to limit Iran's nuclear programme, and reinstated sanctions. In response, Iran stopped abiding by some commitments in the deal. The EU has sought to salvage the accord but the Iranian tanker was seized because it was suspected of heading to Syria, which would breach EU sanctions on that country.

The Gibraltar authorities freed the vessel on August 15 after receiving assurances from Iran that it would not discharge its cargo in Syria.

The US has been seeking to seize the tanker since it was released by Gibraltar. It issued a warrant and blacklisted the vessel, threatening sanctions on any country which offered it aid. The ship has since sailed east in the Mediterranean.

Two weeks ago, it was revealed that US officials had even offered the captain of the ship millions of dollars in bribes to change course and sail the tanker to somewhere the US might be able to seize it.

A British-flagged tanker was seized by Iran in July, in what was widely seen as retaliation for Britain's role in helping to seize the Iranian vessel - a link Tehran denies. The Stena Impero was passing through the Strait of Hormuz when it was seized. It remains in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Several of the crew were freed last week.

© Associated Press

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